This is no longer an MMO blog, it’s now just a blog about Mount and Blade: Warband. I hope you understand, but lets face it, you are likely too busy playing M&B:W to read blogs. If I were home, I’d be playing too.
The above is said in jest, but just barely, and what kind of cruel world keeps a game like M&B:W away from me for so long? How has no one (that I read) blogged about this and declared it the second coming of everything awesome? I blame you all for this injustice; you collectively have failed as a blogging community.
Steam sale struck again, and because I remember seeing mentions that M&B:W had kind of a cool combat system, I picked it up. I believe that happened on Thursday. Three days later, I have just over 30 hours played. I’d like to have more, but the human body is weak. My mind has been playing it during the physical downtime however. Actually, as I write this I’m still mentally playing it. I just came up with a brilliant strategy to secure some land. Oh yes…
As frequent readers here can attest to, I’m kind of a big sandbox guy. I like ‘making’ the fun rather than having it handed to me, and nothing makes me smile like watching AI do something unexpectedly cool or clever. MMO sandboxes, dating back to UO, promised to replace the NPCs with other players, opening the box in terms of unexpected or cool stuff. UO more or less delivered, as have a few other sandbox games. Players however are flawed, because they can also do stupid things that break immersion, or cause perfectly good rules to be changed because they abuse them. For all the benefits an MMO brings to a sandbox, it also brings its fair share of drawbacks.
Single player sandbox games of high quality are rare, especially pure (no magic) medieval ones. It figures that a guy in a garage (plus wife) would be the ones to create such an amazing game like M&B:W. It’s also a slap in the face of the entire industry as a whole that so few can make something so amazing, in so many aspects. What in gods name do you spend $100m+ on if someone can make Warband happen?
I’m not going to do a full review of the game, but I do want to mention a few things that really stand out.
First and foremost is how well the game runs. Yes, we’re not talking DX11 powered Crysis graphics, but maxed out the game looks more than decent, and far more importantly the look of the game sucks you in rather than distracts you. Oh, and it runs at 120+ FPS maxed out at 1900×1200 with dozens of soldiers+horses all fighting it out. Loading times are very brief, and I’ve only had it crash twice (most likely due to my computer just begging me to give it a break more than anything else). With how quickly and frequently the game auto-saves, I lost less than 10 minutes to the crash, and that’s without ever saving the game myself. In short, the game just works, and you never find yourself fighting AGAINST your system or how things run. That’s rare in PC gaming, and highly appreciated.
Going along with how well the game runs, the UI and ‘how you play’ design of the game is simply fantastic. Things that should be in a menu are (selling/buying goods for instance), while things that add immersion are done ‘in game’ rather than in a menu (taverns, village/town quests). The game has great balance in this regard, and really makes you question the design of other games in contrast. You again find yourself just playing the game rather than playing with its controls, if you know what I mean. It also very much has that ‘one more turn’ style to it, without actually being turn-based. Straight medieval crack that makes hours disappear like seconds.
The often-mentioned combat in M&B:W is indeed phenomenal, and in so many different ways. For starters, it just feels powerful. You FEEL your sword coming down on someone, you FEEL your crossbow bolt taking someone off a horse, and you FEEL the terror you bring when you are charging into a line of infantry with your cavalry. Very similar to how Darkfall combat feels more visceral than standard hotbar mashing, the combat here is like that but on steroids.
But perhaps even importantly, everything feels balanced and accurate, while still allowing you to play hero. Taking a castle IS more difficult, and you can’t just go solo vs everyone else and expect to win. At the same time, you CAN be the deciding factor, and you can take out more men than the average soldier. It sounds very simple, but it really is a crazy balancing act. Yes, on a horse and with a bow you can ride in circles and pick people off, but they might hit you with ranged attacks, and if not, you will eventually run out of arrows. You can get really good at the melee combat, you easily beat 2-3 foes at once, but no amount of player-skill will stop 15+ enemies from eventually killing you. Far too many games either cheat to get you, or allow you to kill hundreds single-handedly. M&B:W get’s this just right.
Damn, almost two pages and I’ve yet to mention the best part: the sandbox world. To keep what is already a long post a bit shorter, I’ll just say that the world ‘works’. If you stand still and do nothing, the game will go on and things will happen. Factions will war against each other, lords will get captured, towns will trade hands, etc. Initially nothing in the world is tied to you or your actions, and the real beauty of the whole thing is FORCING the world to recognize you as a factor. That is the ‘end-game’ here, but how you reach is up to you, and, perhaps more importantly, the actions of the AI. That to me is the pinnacle of a sandbox, and based on my experience so far, Mount and Blade:Warband nails it.
Obviously, I can’t recommend the game enough to anyone at all interested in this style of play. It is, simply put, the most fun I’ve had with a game in 30 hours since… perhaps ever. No joke.